They link twists, forward and backward rotations. Then rise to the surface undulating, iridescent fin gracefully accompanying their movements. For some time now, the swimming pools have been populated by half-human, half-aquatic creatures, endowed with shimmering tails: aspiring mermaids. They indulge in freediving, monofin and role-playing, in order to shape their body while escaping thanks to a discipline making more and more waves: the mermaiding (“Make the siren” in English).
“Some come to training with just a monofin, others with the fin, blow-dry, waterproof makeup and shell necklaces. I also have nymphs: mermaids without fins, which only do the movements. No matter. What matters in the mermaidingis to express what we want to be, and to feel free to embody a magical creature. I teach in a golden bikini, with rhinestones in my hair, ”explains Cindy Guyot, mermaid instructor at the Métisphère Swiss Mermaid school, in Milvignes (NE), and manager mermaiding with the Swiss Underwater Sports Federation. Because the country is infatuated with this practice and now has 22 schools. Next year, the Valais municipality of Fiesch will even host the MerLympics, a kind of European championships of mermaiding.
But the craze for mermaids goes well beyond the pools. On screen, these creatures are ubiquitous, from the teen series H2O, on Netflix, to the darker one in Arte, An island, in which Laetitia Casta plays a dangerous undine (a water genius). Disney has also just started filming a remake in live action (with real actors) from his famous 1989 cartoon, The little Mermaid, with Halle Bailey as marine heroine and Javier Bardem as Triton, king of the seas. Even the catwalks do not escape the mermaid passion, from Burberry, very inspired by the atmosphere of fishing net and bustiers of naiads, to Givenchy and its fishtail dresses.
Like the witch, a highly symbolic figure who fascinates the beginning of the third millennium, the mermaid embodies all the values of ecofeminism. This ascendant brings together feminist and environmental struggles, drawing a parallel between the oppression of women and of nature by men. “The siren is a myth that adapts to all the cultures in which it is mentioned. Today it embodies many of our contemporary concerns. For example, it is used a lot to defend marine ecology, as does the famous Australian activist siren Hannah Fraser. What could be better than a mermaid to raise awareness of the marine world, which is wasting away? ” confirms Claire Baudet, alias Claire the Siren.
Professional performer for ten years and author of a recent guide to mermaiding, Mermaid! (Ed. Larousse), she plays with an exacerbated femininity through her own character. “We meet tattooed mermaids, or with shaved heads, each his vision of the mermaid. It is a very open environment, which advocates the marvelous, friendship and benevolence. Me, I have always been fascinated by outrageous femininity, long hair, pretty necklines, heavy makeup. But if the siren is often in the over-representation of femininity, it is not a femininity acquired by men. Behind this exaltation, there is an ambivalence, like a monstrosity that could arise. Besides, children understand it very well, and those who have not been rocked by The little Mermaid sometimes see us as fishtail monsters. Little boys, especially, can get a little scared during shows. ” Before becoming a professional mermaid, Claire Baudet worked at length on the “extremely dense” myth of this legendary creature at university, studying its history and contemporary subculture. In her book, she returns to her prolific origins.
From Mesopotamia to Instagram
The first figure appears in 2000 BC, in Mesopotamia, and it is a man. Ea, god of underground water, who can appear as a bearded man surrounded by fish, or as a man half-fish. In L’Iliad, the famous mermaids devouring the sailors of Odysseus have the body of a bird and the head of a woman, while in Norse beliefs they already appear with their tail made of scales. In the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church made the mermaid a diabolical creature, with a double fin which opened up to its intimacy (bifid mermaid), a symbol of the sin of lust. In 1837, Hans Christian Andersen transcended her into a sacrificial heroine, who agreed to have her tongue cut to gain legs. “She wanted to rise by obtaining a human and immortal soul,” says Claire Baudet. There are several readings to this tale. One of them, which Anderson wanted to give, is that it is always painful to seek to rise from one’s social condition. This is what happened to the author, coming from a very poor background, who ended up as a storyteller for the King’s children, never feeling in his place. “
Now it is humans who dream of obtaining a fish soul by undulating the bottom of swimming pools and seas, or simply disguising themselves as a mermaid at home, before posting the result on Instagram (13 million posts under the hashtag #mermaid, and 2.8 million publications for #mermaidhair: mermaid hairstyles). the mermaiding is part of a series of already existing alternative practices, consisting in embodying fantastic creatures that can be found in particular in the fashion of cosplay manga (dress up to look like your favorite characters). “The mermaiding consists in rebuilding a parallel social world, and we can glimpse through its development a reaction to an unsuitable social environment, an alternative to the cult of performance, a way of accomplishing oneself differently, by rebuilding a community that escapes certain constraints ”, analyzes Sébastien Haissat, sociologist specializing in social imaginaries.
Jessica Maag, mermaid instructor at Thonex, who likes to play as “a mermaid strap, with little horns”, confirms that the community is very festive. “Being a mermaid immediately brings escape. We dive into another world, freed from daily worries. And in my lessons, I see all the benefits that this brings, especially to adolescents, on self-acceptance and confidence. ” Very passionate, she also belongs to a WhatsApp group which brings together sirens from the canton of Vaud: “We try to meet in a swimming pool, to swim together, talk about fin marks, or meet German and French-speaking people as soon as possible. . “
Each year, she mainly takes her students to Belgium, for a weekend in the mermaids’ paradise: the Mermates Convention, which offers a huge sea pit filled with magical creatures coming to wave together. Without forgetting his companion newt (the male version of the sirens), who assists him during his lessons, “to show that it is also an activity for boys and men. Besides, I’m happy, I finally have a little newt in my class this year. ”
Recently, in France, there is also a Mister Triton competition. Kewin Mezrag won the last one, and is organizing the next one, which will take place this summer, in Guérande (Brittany). He joined this shimmering community recently: “In the mermaiding, there are really great values, no one judges themselves, everyone is smiling. And then it’s good to play the newt, it breaks gender stereotypes. ” The proof? Her 8-year-old daughter “wants to become a mermaid, like daddy.”